"Wake up, nef! There's a hurricane coming." In the doorway stood my uncle. For the last couple of days the weatherman had hinted at a hurricane possibly passing through South Carolina.
"Huh? What?" I had been in a deep sleep. Outside the wind was swishing the limbs of the oaks that stood beside the house. It was darker than it should have been.
"Is it here? Now?"
"No, but it's close. Get dressed. We got some riding to do."
I watched him raise his plastic cup my way. That crooked smile offered a full day. I flung the covers aside. My socks were on the floor. My pants and shirt were on the bed post. In minutes I was dressed. Clyde was pouring another drink.
"Got any coke in this ice box?"
"I think there should be a bottle in there. Got a cup for me?"
It was about nine in the morning. The wind was rattling the windows. Rain was sheeting the road in quick gusts. Spanish moss ripped from oak branches flew past the picture window at the front.
"Looks like it's already begun," I said tilting the Calverts Extra into my cup. "Did you find the coke?"
"Yeah. Not much here. I'll have to put more Calverts in to fill the cup." His smile grew along with the twinkle in his eye.
"I think I need a little more coke than that."
"No problem, nef. We'll head by the Pig first."
My parents were at work so there was no one to tell good bye. We made a quick dash to the car shielding our cups from the rain. They were already diluted enough.
"That wind isn't very strong." My keen observation was interrupted by the snap of a tree limb behind us.
"Get out and get that, will you , nef?"
"I don't want to get out in that rain."
Clyde looked at me. "We won't be going anywhere if that limb isn't moved."
"It looks big. Maybe you should help."
"I'm driving and mixing the drinks," Clyde said with that smile.
I pushed the door against the wind. "That wind must have picked up. I might get blown away."
"A chance we'll have to take if we're gonna ride the storm."
"Guess you're right." I forced the door wide enough to slip out into a blast of rainfall. I ran dodging gouts of Spanish moss liberated from oak limbs. The limb lay across the drive. Grabbing it above the splintered end, I dragged it to the side of the road at which time I was gobsmacked by a juicy bit of Spanish moss.
"Crap!" I shouted pulling the wet mass from my face. I ran to the passenger side of the car. Clyde was backing as I jumped in.
"Careful, nef. You'll get my seat wet."
"Have a drink, nef. It'll warm you up."
He gunned it. The roar brought faces to the windows along the street. We pushed on through the intermittent slaps of rain. The street was deserted. Everyone with any sense was battened down and snug in their houses stocked up for the aftermath. We cheerfully sipped at our cups and sailed along the roads slick with sheets of water flowing into ditches filling quickly. The rain beating on the windshield had become heavy along with heavier gusts pounding the glass so hard we thought it might crack. That worry faded with the sight of the bottom of my cup.
"So how long before we get our mixer?"
"It's kinda hard to see the road at the minute, nef."
"It isn't like the road is crowded. You can go faster than this."
"Maybe you could, but I'm driving. I'd like to get us there."
The wipers were working hard to clear the glass of water. It was almost like driving through a river. The view of the road was obliterated each time the wipers swiped up then down. I could tell Clyde was having trouble seeing the road.
"At least you aren't soaked to the skin."
"One more stop light and you can run into the Pig for some mixer."
"What do you mean me?"
"Well, you're already soaked to the skin. You just told me that. No need in both of us getting wet. Besides I'm driving."
Once more I forced the door open to jump out right into a puddle.
"Oh, damn." The words came out as if I had dry shoes on. Into the store and out again since no one else was out in this. Two large cokes in the plastic liter bottles filled the soggy bag.
"Watch it, nef! You're getting my seats wet again."
"What did you expect?" I shouted at him. He was pouring booze into his cup.
"Why don't you pour some of that mixer in here. Yeah. Whoa now. You don't want to weaken it too much."
I wanted to pour it into his lap but tipped it over my cup that he had so generously filled with Calverts.
"OK," he said cranking the Ford. "Beach or Battery?"
"Let's try the Battery first. They might close the bridges before it's over."
"Good point. The battery it is."
Over the Wappoo Cut bridge we drove through more sheeting rain. The road on the other side was flooding so he had to take it slow. A spray of water cut by the wheels splashed over the road side as we drove steadily on. The Ashley River bridge was void of cars. We did pass the occasional car but the driver would always be hunched over the wheel driving at an ant's crawl. When we would drive past our wake would riddle his windshield with a heavy spray causing his crawl to a stop until his wipers could cart off the water layer. A hand gesutre usually followed such a stop but we paid no mind lifting our cups and looking ahead to the show of nature's fury against the wall of the battery to come.
We turned the corner that took us to the road beside the battery wall. It was flooding so he drove along the higher side. We left a wake behind us as we traveled on. There were waves crashing against the wall to our right. We were startled by the boom of a wave curling six feet above the railing and crashing into the street ahead of us.
"Wow! That was a beauty!" I shouted. Clyde slowed to watch chopping water in the Ashley River.
"That was something. Let's go on up to High Battery. That'll be eve more spectacular."
The car moved slowly through the water rippling across the road in front of us. We arrived at the steps leading to the high sidewalk facing Ft Sumter.
"Time to get wet, nef," he said leaning into the door. He was out and bounding up the steps as a heavy gust of wind lifted the river up and over the walkway in a bone rattling crash against the wall. The curl of the wave broke, plastering him to the walkway. I started out but he waved me off slipping down the steps running back to the car.
"Hey! Watch it, unc. You're gonna get your seats wet!" I laughed.
'Button it, nef. What a blast that was." As he spoke there was aloud boom above us. Sparks flew all around. We looked up through the winshield to see a huge cloud of smoke with sporadic electrical arcs playing in the rain around the transformer that had just exploded.
"Well, time to head to Folly." He cranked the Ford and made a U-turn. The road was filling quickly now. We could feel the waves tapping the doors as we moved as quickly as possible back down the road we came in on.
"Hit the radio. Let's see what the weather man says about all this."
I turned it on.
"Don't go out if you have no need. The streets are flooding. There are limbs across some major roads at this time and electricity has been lost to West Ashley due to fallen lines. I repeat. Stay indoors. Don't venture out except in an emergency. These roads are dangerous. There are policemen out stopping cars. They will tell you to go home and stay put. This storm is going to get worse.'
"Maybe you'd better get us out of town fast. We don't want to see a cop."
"I'm moving as fast as I can. We're going to make it to Folly, watch the waves, then go home. Fix me another drink, will ya."
"Sure," I said downing what was left in my cup. "I thimk I might be gettin drunk."
"That's the plan. I'll take that." He took the cup from my hand and I poured my own.
It seemed we were the only two on the road. We hadn't run into any policemen as we came off the Ashley River Bridge headed for Windermere. The lights were out so we had to inch across intersections. The rain continued a steady pounding of the car with bursts of heavier rainfall. The windshield wipers were slap slapping at full speed with hardly any change in visibility, which was extremely poor at this time. We saw a police car at the intersection of Windermere behind a lone driver. He was outside the window in his raincoat bent in toward the driver, probably telling that fool to go home. We picked up speed as we passed. The road was clear ahead.
On the other side of the Wappoo Cut Bridge we slowed for the light at the intersection because it was not working. There was no traffic anywhere so Clyde gunned across. Folly was just a few miles away. We dodged a couple of limbs that had settled in the street. I looked for the trees that had let them go to the wind but we were past them by that time.
The electricity was out on James Island the radio announcer told us. He said the hurricane would pass through in the next couple of hours and that the wind would begin to drop but high gusts would continue through the night.
"If it's going to pass we'd better step on it to get to the beach."
"We'll get there, nef. If it's the last thing we do, we'll get there."
"Right," I said downing my cup. "Finished yours?"
"Yeah, I could use a topper upper." I took his cup and poured half and half then returned it.
He tried it.
"When'd you start mixing them so watery?"
"Here. I can put more in."
"Well, if you insist. I'll take jest a tetch," he said, quoting James Garner in the film just out, The Wheeler Dealers.
I filled the cup.
The marsh on each side of the road was grey with water white capping along the top of the marsh grass. The tide was in high enough to begin creeping across the road. Once again we were leaving a wake in our rear view.
"We better get over fast or we might not be able to get back home."
"If we can't, we've got plenty of mixer," he said holding up the unopened liter.
We crossed the last bridge to Folly and drove along the main street. It was deserted except for the palms blowing wildly in every direction. The wires above were humming in the steady wind from the sea in front of us.
We parked. Opening the door was a struggle but we managed. Leaning into the wind we pressed on to the beach. The waves were magnificent. Mother Nature at her wildest best. The sucking of sand back into the sea was almost visible to the naked eye. Heavy swells of rolling ocean burst upon the dunes then were pulled back beneath the next wall of pulverizing wave. The spray whitened the advancing clouds of grey and black. The rain poured from the roiling clouds erasing the horizon and joining the sea and sky into a grey continuum. We were being savagely whipped by wind and rain that had become one. The sea leapt into the air freeing salt spray to accompany the rain and wind providing the taste of tears as if the area had been beaten into submission. We were lashed from all sides as we stood at the top of the sodden dunes. Sea oats whipped into a frenzy lashed across us. It was a most beautiful display of nature's fury.
Both of us were losing the battle as the wall of wind frm the sea pushed us backward. We looked at one another then turned and ran to the car.
"Wow! What a thrill!" Clyde said turning the key. We sat, the throb of the engine lost to the mighty blowing of the wind, and watched the waves rolling forward and crashing into the coast, wave after wave. We were mesmerized.
"OK," said Clyde. "I think we should be getting home now." He turned the car around. As he moved forward there was a crackle and loud pop. Just above us one of the humming wires had broken loose. It slapped the road in our path. It whipped around like a snake whose tongue turned to darting sparks. It blocked our path home. Clyde put it in reverse backing for the road to our right. He turned and drove one block, turned left and drove two blocks before turning left again. We stopped at the main road and looked in the direction of the ocean. The line from the pole was still bouncing along the road way whipping sparks in all directions.
"One more for the road, nef."
I agreed. I poured it like Clyde always told me, "Pour it like it ain't yours, nef."
One more generous helping and we headed back to the house. We were soaking wet, totally intoxicated and happy to know that God looks after fools and drunks because we were both.